9:28am

Fri October 5, 2012
Energy

Arista takes on a carbon footprint the size of an army

 A western New York company is tackling one of the world's largest carbon footprints: The Department of Defense.

Arista Power has been awarded a contract with the military to help reduce the amount of fossil fuels being used in the field, and this week they are presenting their progress at the Pentagon.

From wind turbines that can fit in a soldier’s back pack, to individual energy grids that can be loaded onto a trailer, this company is working on addressing the growing need for renewable energy, and energy management.

The Department of Defense is working towards generating or purchasing 25 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2025.

The system Arista Power is building is called an intelligent micro-grid, and as CEO and President of the company Bill Schmitz explains, it is basically just a mini version of a regular electricity grid – but with a few adjustments.

“Everybody can envision a big power plant, just think about this as a little power plant. But the little power plant is a wind turbine, or the little power plant is a solar panel. And we basically set up a grid that you can ‘plug and play’ into it.”

Schmitz says.

A theoretical layout for a micro-grid used in a community or business.
Credit New York State report - Microgrids: An assessment of the value, opportunities, and barriers to deployment in New York state

Micro-grids can pull energy from a diverse range of sources which Schmitz explains can be anything from traditional fuel, to solar panels or a cell phone battery.

The system Arista has designed then analyzes each source and the usage patterns, and can also alert soldiers in the field on how to use equipment efficiently.

It is a predictive system that can analyzes things like the number of sunlight hours and then converts that into data on how much energy can be collected and stored and how much can be used. Schmitz says:

“We tap into all available resources out there, analyze it and then give the soldier the ability to say ‘here’s what I can run, here’s what I can’t run, here’s how long my mission is, here is what I have to be conscious about.’”

The Holy Grail

One of the biggest questions about renewable energy in the past few years has been how do we store it?

According to Schmitz, “storage is the holy grail,” and something their system does well.

And he says the key is batteries. The issue isn’t really getting batteries to charge with different forms of energy however, it’s the next part; managing that energy.

“It’s really how you manage the energy in and out, and when you do it.”

This technology has been advanced by the emergence of electric cars he says, and their growing place in the car industry is pushing battery prices down.

Arista is working on this issue with General Electric (GE)  which has invested $300 million in a battery plant in Schenectady, N.Y.

Good Feedback.

U.S army engineer with a system converted to be able to power a micro-grid.
Credit Some rights reserved by U.S army material command

Phase one of Arista’s multi-year project with the military is getting a good response at the Pentagon already Schmitz says.

But Schmitz says his team of 14 hasn’t made it to this point on their own.

“We used all of the resources in Rochester and Western New York to be able to pull this off. It’s a great accomplishment and we’re very optimistic that that’s going to yield great rewards for us as a company.

The real reason we could do that, and have the capability is, it’s kind of like our power on demand system, we use all available resources to be able to generate a result.”